File Under: Programming

EveryBlock Source Code Release Offers Glimpse of the Magic Behind the Curtain

EveryBlock, the local news aggregator that touts itself as a “news feed for your block,” has followed through on its much-anticipated source code release.

The local news site was founded two years ago by Adrian Holovaty, who is also one of the creators of the Django web development framework, which powers EveryBlock. Over the past two years, EveryBlock has operated on a grant from the Knight Foundation. The grant enabled EveryBlock to remain free of the pressures of venture capital funding and focus on experimenting with “micro local” news. The result of those experiments is a whole new way of looking at local news. We’re especially fond of the awesome EveryBlock iPhone app.

One of the stipulations in the Knight grant was that EveryBlock release its source code so that other sites can build on EveryBlock’s foundation.

For developers working with Django — a Python-based web framework — the new code provides a wealth of Django and geographic tools. It’s particularly interesting since much of it was written by Holovaty himself, one of the stars of Django development.

Of course, just because the code is not available to the public doesn’t mean you can drag-and-drop some files to your web server and create your own EveryBlock clone.

It would be nice if you could but, while the source code is a good starting point, much of EveryBlock’s success has nothing to do with its impressive source code. EveryBlock’s real success stems from the team’s ability to work with government officials to get access to the raw data and then organize it geographically.

If you’ve followed the EveryBlock blog at all, you’ll know that, sadly, local governments aren’t exactly forthcoming with their data. In fact, some seem downright hostile to the idea of sharing “their” data. The fact EveryBlock has been able to get access to data like building permits, crime stats and everything else on the site, is more a testimony to the group’s skills as bureaucratic negotiators than any Python tricks hidden up its sleeves.Still, having had a look at the EveryBlock source code, we can assure you there are indeed some very cool Python tricks in EveryBlock’s code — especially when it comes to working with geographic database extensions like GIS — and it will no doubt prove a gold mine for the Django community.

So what happens to, now that the grant money is gone? Holovaty writes on the EveryBlock blog that the site plans to continue as a private company, and he promises that the team still has some cool tricks to show off. “We have some exciting ideas planned around revolutionizing the whole EveryBlock experience,” writes Holovaty, “we’re only getting started.”

If you’d like to see what sort of magic has been powering EveryBlock for the last two years, head on over to the new source code page and download the code. The code is broken down into several categories with tools ranging from the GIS tools to the data-acquisition modules and scripts. All of the code is available under the GPL 3.0.

One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning to develop some sort of EveryBlock site: The design and the name are not part of the release. In other words, your project can be inspired by EveryBlock, but don’t rip it off.

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